Archive for the ‘…en Cuisine’ Category

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Cherry season

June 3, 2010

I picked my first cherry’s of the season today. I packed the baby in her stroller and we went bumping down the tractor path following Auriane swinging her basket and Olivia way ahead on her bike. We passed the poppies and honeysuckle its sweet fragrance making me hungrier as I neared the trees. The two old ladies were waiting at the end of the lane, their rich black cherries dripping from their branches. It’s my favorite time of year. Maybe because I met Raphael in May and on our second ‘date’ he brought me a Tupperware full of fresh picked cherries (his mom had picked them). Which I devoured on the car ride from the airport to the hotel. They were the best cherries I had ever tasted.    

May and June is cherry season in the south of France. May starts off with trees covered in white blossoms dusted pink. We have many trees on the property so that the season becomes a parade of pink and white flowers with a different variety of cherry popping out every few weeks.    

Cherry clafoutis.

 

Cherry season means its time for the provincial cake, Clafoutis. Basically a simple egg batter with a thick top layer of cherries dripping juice as it cooks. The blackest cherries are best for a Clafoutis, but they are also the best to eat. I layered them in the baking dish, mixed the batter, poured it over then put it in the over. It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe and we were both hovering over the oven for it to finish. The problem was we had a group of French tourists arrive. Over 50 of them! And we had to man the bar in the wine shop. We forgot about the Clafoutis! My first Clafoutis came out slightly burnt.     

My mother-in-law also taught me how to make cherry preserves. Making preserves is not such a big deal. You put the fruit in a pot, pour in the correct amount of sugar and let it simmer for a long time until the fruit becomes liquid. With cherries, however, you have the problem of seeds. As the fruit liquefies, the seeds rise to the top of the pot. I stood in front of the stove for over an hour, or so it seemed, removing cherry pits from the preserves with a fork. But in the end, I suppose it’s worth it each time I spread the sweet jam onto a piece of toasted baguette.   

Obviously I wrote this a year ago when I still had a baby in a stroller.  Funny I’m about to have another baby in a stroller.  This year, the cherry’s are excellent but unfortunately we don’t have any on our trees.  Over one night a few weeks ago, they all disappeared.  This is the second time that our cherry’s have been hijacked.  Some, I’m sure, are eater by birds.  However, the trees are bare even at the very top and they’re rather large given their age.  One must know where they are as they are hidden in the middle of a couple of vineyards at the end of a long path.  The problem is that they are not far from a small road.  It’s disappointing to not be able to take the girls to pick cherry’s this year.  I’ve been buying them regularly because they are still the best I’ve ever tasted but they are not cheap.  Thus no extra buying for other goodies.  We have no reserve for cherry clafoutis or preserves.  Our plan is to buy some more trees and plant them closer to the house.  In fact, we hope to do an orchard of fruit trees on the small field in front of the house.   So far, we have two apricot trees.    

Cherry clafoutis recipe   

You will need one round pie pan buttered.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.   

21 oz or 2 1/2 cups very ripe cherry’s (Really you need enough to fully cover the top of the batter. ) (It’s your choice as to whether you want to de-seed them.)   

1 1/2 oz butter plus a little more to spread on the baking pan   

4 eggs   

7 oz milk   

3/4 cup flour   

1/4 cup sugar   

1 tablespoon vanilla extract   

1 pinch of salt   

Rinse cherry’s.  Melt the butter in a small pan.  Mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Add vanilla and eggs one by one mixing continuously.  Next, slowly add the milk while mixing.  Add melted butter.  Pour the mixture into the pie pan then add the cherry’s to the top spreading evenly.    

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees then lower the temperature to 350 and cook another 20 minutes.  Dust finished cake with powdered sugar and serve at room temperature or chilled.

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Liqueur de violette recipe…

May 20, 2010

let liquor recipeMy jackpot of wild violets in the village of Clansayes.

 

Jenn of The Adventures of Kap and Fia requested my violet liquor recipe, the one I’m not sure I’ll ever make.   I meant to include it in the post so here it is…  

500 grams (about 1 pound and 1.6 oz) of strongly scented violet petals 

300 grams (10.5 oz) of sugar 

1 litre fruit alcohol 40 degrees (easily found in France, I’m not sure exactly what it is or where to find it outside of France.  I imagine it is a 40 percent grain alcohol.) 

-Rince the petals and let them dry on a clean towel 

-Place them in a jar (rather large) alternating one layer of petals with a layer of sugar.  Close the jar and let it sit one week in a hidden place like a cupboard. 

-Pour the alcohol on the flowers, mix and reclose the jar.  Let macerate for 10 days. 

-Filter and pour into a bottle. 

This recipe is translated exactly from the French version. 

Let me know how it turns out.  Enjoy!

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Wild violet liquor

May 10, 2010

Violets growing out of a crack in our stone wall.

 

In early March, after flipping through some old recipes and cleaning tips that I found in a book dating back to Raphael’s grandma’s generation, I got the brillant idea to make a violet liqueur.  Violets grow wild all over the winery in early spring so the timing was perfect.  I began picking handfuls as I walked around the property filling my pockets with the delicate flowers.       

The recipe calls for 500 grams of dried violet petals although it doesn’t specify if you should weigh the entire violet while still fresh, only the petals while still fresh or only the petals after they have dried.  Trust me, this makes a difference in the weight.  I chose to weigh the dried petals.  So after I picked each small handful of violets, I removed, one by one, the delicate petals placing them in a bowl to dry.       

After about two weeks of accumulating violet petals in a plastic bag on top of the refrigerator, I decided I probably had enough.  I took down my kitchen scale and emptied the petals into the bowl.  The needle barely touched 15 grams.  Most people would give up.  I became obsessed to pick enough violets to make a liquor that I can’t even drink until after baby is born.  It was obvious that I wasn’t going to find enough violets on the winery for this recipe.       

 Each time we went for a drive I scanned the roadsides for the tiny purple flowers.  I learned that they grow in humid, shady areas and frequently along stone walls or at the edge of woods.  Maybe, like the truffle mushroom and the Oak, there is even a specific type of tree they grow near.        

My jackpot of wild violets in the village of Clansayes.

 

My first big find was on my way home after buying goats cheese.  Spying a flash of purple, I pulled the car over, hoped out and filled my coat pockets with violets. Guiltily, I glanced in all directions certain some local would come walking up the road shaking a stick and yelling at me in French that I was a horrible girl stealing wild flowers from the side of the road.  But as the grams on the scale climbed I was more determined to reach the 500 mark.  Then I his the jackpot.  On my way back from visiting the statue of the Virgin Mary on the cliff above the village of Clansayes, I passed a slope of hill covered with violets.  The slope was bordered by the village stone wall on one side and hidden by trees on the road side which is why I didn’t notice the flowers on the way up.  I was in a hurry as it was almost time to get the girls from school but I couldn’t resist.  I even had a bag in the trunk.  In a rush, instead of daintily picking one or two flowers at a time, I grabbed handfuls, shoving them into the bag.         

When I got home, I set to sorting the flowers from the sticks and grass and removing the petals.  But that was not all I found in the bag.  As I opened the bag, large black spider came scurrying out at me with surprising rapidity.  I guess during the ride home, he found his way near the top of the bag and was just waiting for me to open it for him to reclaim his freedom.  I relocated furry guy outside using the dust pan.         

I discovered this baby snail in the bag of wild violets.

 

When all the petals were removed I was thrilled to see I had filled the bowl and half of a second.  I set them back on the fridge with the intention of weighing them when they were dry.  Surely now I had close to 500 grams.  The next day I weighed them only to find I had just reached the 100 gram mark.         

Do you know how many violets you need to pick to get 500 grams?  Neither do I.  After a month and a half of collecting them, I gave up.  I have about 150 grams of violet potpourri in a lovely bowl in the living room.  I’m going to leave the alcohol making to the experts in the family.        

I still wanted to try violet liquor so I recently visited the Eyguebelle Distillery not far from us in the Drôme.  They have a tiny museum that walks you through the history of the distillery which was begun by the monks of the Abbaye d’ Aiguebelle.  The visit ends at the store of course, where you can taste all the products.  In addition to the liquors, they make sirops including a violet sirop which I happily tasted.  A sirop in France is a condensed and sugared extract of a fruit or plant.  You pour a small amount into a glass then fill it with water to make a drink.  It’s a higher quality and better tasting Kool Aid.  Maybe it was just my obsession but I found the violet sirop good enough to buy a bottle along with a bottle of the violet liquor – one for now, one for after baby.

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Fin gras…

April 16, 2010

The mascot wearing the ribbon of excellence or as Raphael called it, the cow thong..

Our sejour into the high Ardeche last week was not just an afternoon playing in the cold.  Our destination was the village of St. Eulalie where the first annual Fin Gras du Mézenc beef tasting was being held and to which Raphael was invited as an honored taster.  I was along for the sight seeing and the lunch, of course.         

The Fin Gras du Mézenc is one of three appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) for beef in France.  The cows are raised by a unique group of ‘eleveurs’ who’ve been living on this land and raising cows for generations.  Their heart is in the land so much so that the president of the AOC joked that his wife claims he spends more time and gives more love to his cows than to her.        

The cattle farmers, butchers, restauranteurs, tasters and meat.

The legend of Fin Gras says that on the first day came the mountain fires:  the volcano’s lava fertilized the land.  The second day brought rain which fertilized the green pastures.  Next the wind blew drying the hay.  And finally came the monks who built farms where they lived out the frozen winter months with their cows.  And so began the Fin Gras.         

The unique taste of the beef of Fin Gras comes from the hay.  The cows, coming from a variety of races, are nourished on the plateau on top of Mout Mézenc where a specific weed called cistre grows wild in the prairies.  It’s the cistre that gives the beef of Fin Gras du Mézenc its particularity which is threaded through the meat from the ‘persillade’ or the natural marbling of fat.  Most cows graze in the spring and summer and are fed a light diet of dry hay through the winter months.  Cistre, called the fennel of the alps, is thought by most cattle farmers to be a bad weed for the cows since they never touched it while grazing in the pastures.  It is usually removed from the hay before dried.  In addition, many endeavored to creat a new flora in their grazing pastures by planting grain that produced acceptable hay.  However, the cattle farmers of Mézenc decided to leave the cistre in the hay and by doing so discovered that the cattle love the weed when dry and devour it with gusto throughout the winter months making this the most fattening up time of the year.  This cistre gives the meat a unique indescribable flavor and makes it one of the most expensive and tender meats in France.         

The beef tasting consisted only of Fin Gras de Mézenc meat.  The tasters were a select group of butchers, chefs, restaurateurs and wine makers.  Raphael was actually representing Goûtez l’Ardèche which holds its own select tastings of products before admitting them to the organization.  The tasters job was to evaluate and describe in distinct language the scent, visual, and taste of the meat which was tasted on three levels.  The first was a bouillon, or in fact 17 different bouillons.  For each, the criteria were exactly the same;  the meat used to cook the bouillon was cut from the same part of the cow, it weighed the same, was cooked for the same amount of time (6am to 10am), and in the same amount of water.  The single difference was that each cut of meat used for the bouillon cam from a different cow (age, breed and location, mainly altitude and type of prairie).         

M. Vidal, president of the Toques d'Auvergne and Bernard Bonnefoy, president of the AOC Fin Gras du Mezenc smell the bouillon.

I sat, fascinated by the intentness of the tasters.  It wasn’t unlike a wine tasting.  They examined the color of each bouillon, moving the bowl to see how the fat swam in the liquid.  A spoon was filled and the bouillon dripped back into the bowl to check its texture and consistency.  Noses approached, circling over or dipping deeply into the bowl, sniffing lightly and intently at the fragrance.  Cups were filled, once again the bouillon was sniffed, sipped and frequently spit into a plastic bowl placed on the table for that purpose.  Notes were taken on each bouillon.  Some were retasted.  It took a while for each taster to make his way through all 17 bouillons  and as the hour approached lunchtime, the scent of coking beef teased my gurgling stomach.  Raphael let me taste the one he marked as his least favorite and the one marked as his preference.  It was easy to note the distinct difference between the two.  The first was very fatty and tasted that way, had little smell and, contrary to the large amount of fat which I thought would bring taste, was watery.  The second was thick and just the smell made you want to cut into the steak it came from.  Upon tasting, it was full of flavor and I could say, full bodied like a wine.         

The spitting.

The second tasting was a selection of carpaccio marinated in olive oil, vinegar and sel de cistre, which I was unable to try due to being pregnant.  There were also 17 carpaccio meats using the same standards as above.  This tasting went much quicker and was less involved although once again, the amateur tasters biggest comment was that they blended together after a while.  But for the professional : differences were made between texture.  According to Raphael, some were so tender, they cut with just a fork and were melting in the palate like excellent smoked salmon.  I’ve never been a fan of carpaccio but I have to admit, it looked quite good thinly sliced in various shades of pink – about the only difference I could see between them.         

The evaluating.

The final event was performed with all the pomp and circumstance of a wine tasting but there was no actual tasting involved.  It was more of a viewing – of côte de boeuf or rib eye steak.  Each butcher supplied his or her own piece of meat, presenting it in full description and then cutting it on a butcher block.  The threading was pointed out and the type of preparation for sale each butcher used was explained.  The majority of the taste testers were unable to make a significant difference between the cuts of meat, except maybe the amount of marbling in each piece.  It was the butchers who really supplied the knowledge to define differences.  One butcher asked me to touch his meat.  (No, not a come on.  For goodness sake, I’m over 7 months pregnant.) And then touch another cut of meat.  If it is oily to the touch, he explained, it is a good meat, gras or fatty, but in a good way.  A meat that is slightly dryer to the touch has more nerves and tendons and will be less flavorful and more tough and chewy.  A good tip except that I don’t imagine my local bouchère would appreciate me asking to touch her steaks before making my choice even if France is keen on allowing consumers to sample their wares before purchase.         

        

The event ended with a marathon meal beginning with a blend of all the best bouillons, followed by an entrée of thinly sliced beef, not much more cooked than the carpaccio, a tartar of lentils and a rillette of beef.  The main course consisted of three different cuts of beef prepared the best way for each cut.  Surprisingly, the most well cooked was the most tender perhaps because it was covered with a sauce made of bouillon and dark chocolate.  (After seeing the movie chocolat, I’ve always been curious about the marriage of meat and chocolate.  This was my first chance to taste it and it works.)  Local cheese was next and finally a chestnut mousse for desert.  Each course was accompanied by wine supplied by the wine makers present.  We brough a fruity Côtes du Rhône, and much appreciated Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, and a Côtes du Vivarais white.  The restaurant where the tasting was held is a client of ours and happily supplied one of the best wines of the event, our 2001 Ardèsc, which was so smooth and nicely aged in the high altitude.  Speaking of altitude, these cattle farmers love a good meal with a good wine followed by a good after dinner drink, in this case, a liqueur made by the President of the AOC from the cistre.  This was some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted but by the end, I had eaten enough beef to last me for a while.         

In the bag, the hay and cistre mix. In the jar, the sel de cistre.

The Fin Gras du Mézenc have recently opened a museum and visiting center in the village of Chaudeyrolles where you can learn about the Fin Gras through different presentations, visits to farms, and cooking demonstrations.  There is also a promenade among the cows with 8 stops depicting the rhythm of the farmers. If you go there, don’t forget to buy a jar of sel de cistre, or salt of cistre. Spread on top of any beef steack, it will give a uncomparable taste.  And most restaurants in the region offer a meal with the meat of Fin Gras du Mézenc.        

Restaurant of the president of Toques d’Auvergne        

VIDAL  43 260 SAINT-JULIEN CHAPTEUIL

Hotel du Nord  Marie Andrée & Serge Mouyon  –  07510 Sainte Eulalie

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Frogs, fish and stinging nettles…

April 7, 2010

Catching frogs and fish.

 

I learned a new use for wine that has nothing to do with drinking.  The Monday after Easter is a jour férié in France as it’s the first long weekend in spring, everyone is ready to play outside.  My in-laws invited family over for a couscous lunch.  The weather was superb and the kids spent most of their time exploring the grounds.  Their favorite play area was near the water basin where they spent most of the day catching frogs.  We’ve had numerous frog generations make their home in the basin, however, since Kitty came to live with us, their numbers have decreased.  The kids had the idea of capture one or two, keep them in captive until they reproduce thus repopulating the basin.   

 The water flows from the stone wash basin, along an ancient roman waterway that lines the path, down through the woods to a creek.  It was, of course, necessary for the kids to follow this water flow to its end in search of more frogs and apparently, rocks and sticks to decorate Frog’s new home.    

Sadly, Frog didn’t make it through lunch.  During the jostling during relocation of her new home in a water pitcher swiped from my cupboard, somehow she became squished under the large rock meant to be her bed.  She will not be participating in the repopulation of the water basin.    

Shortly after this adventure, Olivia came running back to the garden complaining that she had been piqued by ortie, or stinging nettles.  Her legs were riddled with little red bumps that burn and itch.  Immediately, a cousin took a napkin doused in wine and applied it to the marks.  I imagine the alcohol in the wine was the property that helped, but it worked.  An hour later the bumps were gone and Olivia was back to hanging over the water basin with her cousins – this time fishing for the two or three large goldfish which share the murky water with the frogs.  Just a typical jour férié in Provence.      

Stinging nettles.

 

I was surprised to learn that this stinging ortie is the same plant used to make the soup that is so popular in the region.  In fact, it is the leaves of the nettle which are used in the soup.  Apparently they are used in tea as well.  I can’t understand who would want to eat soup made from something with the name stinging nettle.  It doesn’t sound very appetising, at least the English name.  Ortie, however, sounds exotic – soupe d’ortie.    

For that matter, who came up with the idea of making soup out of this plant to begin with.  The soup is made from the first leaves of the spring.  Gloves are a must when picking them.  I have never tried to make it and would have to ask Raphael or Olivia to show me what the plant looks like.  I do want to share with you a recipe I found in a book containing tips from French grandma’s.  But if picking stinging nettles for soup is not your thing, I have tried a good one from this company http://www.panierdumaraicher.fr/.    

Recipe:     

2 cups of stinging nettle leaves   

4 large potatoes   

4 1/2 cups water   

1/4 cup crème fraîche   

salt and pepper   

Remove the stems from the nettle leaves and cook the leaves in two tablespoons of butter until soft.  Peal the potatoes and chop them into small cubes.  Add the water, potatoes, salt and pepper to the nettle leaves and cook for 20 minutes.  It says to pass them through a vegetable mill but a blender works just fine as well.  Add the crème fraîche.  Serve.

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Wild vine leeks…

April 5, 2010

  

An abundance of poireaux des vignes near the water bassin.

 

I sit in a row of vines, stick in hand, digging furiously in the soil.  Every few minutes I tug on the green leaves of the plant I’m trying to dislodge hoping it suddenly pulls out of the damp earth with ease.  One of the side benefits of living on an organically maintained vineyard is all the wild and edible plants that grow in the fields.  It’s become a new family tradition that each Easter weekend, in all types of weather, we, and any guests we might have, promenade through the vines in search of les poireaux des vignes.  

Raphael shows his vine leek digging technique for a little friend.

 

These wild leeks start to poke up through ground in very early spring.  Three years ago, in our first season of being fully organic, Raphael pointed them out to me during a walk in the vines.   Their green leaves resemble those of their cultivated cousin but grow sporadically in the mix of wild grass, dandelions, and weeds that line the vines in spring.  The vegetable is native to vineyard regions and, more specifically, vines which grow in limestone soil as do ours but due to the use of weed killer, they rarely have the opportunity to flourish.  They are also found near trees in medows and fields of vineyard regions. 

A leek in the vines.

 

Since discovering these vine leeks, each spring I become obsessed with digging up as many as possible for our meals.  Maybe it’s due to growing up in a suburb where gardens and fresh vegetables were an anomaly, but the idea of ‘living off the land’ appeals to me.  Each year more and more leeks push up through the ground not just in the vine fields but by the water source, on the pathways, and near the girl’s swing set.  True farm kids, my daughters have developed an eye for spotting a leek amidst the mass of weeds.  They delight in pointing them out to me and ‘helping’ by digging them up.   The problem is, their impatience has them pulling forcefully on the leaves until they break off, leaving the best part in the ground. 

Vine leeks graw deep under the soil and are frequently entwined in the roots of weeds or stuck under stones.  Some patience and a lot of digging is necessary to free them.  It can take hours to gather a handful.  

I had never eaten a leek, either cultivated or wild, before meeting Raphael.  Since moving to France, I have become accustomed to eating average leeks which have a powerful taste resembling a mild onion.  A vine leek has a milder taste, even slightly sweet.  I actually prefer it to the others.  But they are very small.  The green leafy portion is mostly left uneaten.  While not dangerous, it is corse and bitter.  The  tender white part that grows underground is best.  But unlike the average leek, the cylinder white portion of a vine leek is shorter and ends in a bulb resembling an onion.  The bulb is significantly small.  Off of the bulbs, mixed in with the soil and the roots, are tiny bulbils which, I just learned, can be eaten as well.  Although, left in the ground, they are the seed that will become new poireaux des vignes the following year.  

A nice sized vine leek bulb and the bulbils on the roots.

 

How to cook a poireau de vigne or a vine leek: 

They can be eaten uncooked but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Raw, they have a powerfully bitter taste.  Vine leeks are cooked in the same way as the cultivated leeks;  remove the majority of the green leaf stems. (A small amount near the white can be left as it is more tender.)  Cut off the roots with a bit of the bulb.  You can save the tiny bulbils attached to the roots.   They are best reserved in red vinegar and salt and can be used on salads which sounds great to me.   Then chop the white part, which mostly consists of the bulb, into small pieces and wash well.  The white is either steamed or boiled until soft.  Drain and chill.  Vine leeks are best eaten at room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and pinch of salt.

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Goat’s cheese that ‘Piques’

March 29, 2010

Les chèvres

During a dinner with guests this weekend the subject of conversation turned to food as it often does during a French meal -goat’s cheese to be precise.  We share the same enjoyment of Picodon, a goat’s cheese made primarily in the departments of the Ardèche and the Drôme.  Our friends live in the Drôme and we live in the Ardèche.  The two departments go way back in rivalry but our talk did not lend itself to an argument over who makes the best cheese – which can also occur in friendly French dinner conversations.  Although we have our favorite producers in the Ardèche, Xavier mentioned that they had been to a local producer of fromage de chèvre last week- one I’ve visited and love as well.  He reminded me that now, spring, is the best time to buy goat’s cheese.  The highly fragranced cheese is ripest in the spring for two reasons.  Typically goats feed on sparse grass and brush in rocky mountainous regions, a landscape typical to both departments.  In spring however, the goats are being nourished by the greenest grass of the year having just come out of the most humid season, winter.  Secondly, it’s the season of reproduction and the goat’s milk is especially nutrient rich in the first months after the babies are born.         

With goat’s cheese on my mind, this morning when Raphael asked me to run some wine and soil samples to the wine university of Suze la Rousse  for testing I found myself with the perfect excuse to stop at the Fromagerie Gerfand.  Frequently the best way to find a good cheese is just by stumbling upon a tiny family run farm on a back road in Provence.  The Fromagerie Gerfand is en route to the village of La Garde Adhémar in the Drôme.  There are no large signs advertising the tiny boutique.  One could easily miss the hand painted sign off the main road announcing vente à la Ferme, a farm shop selling fromage de chèvre, Picodon, and other local products.             

I turned right at the next road and was relieved to see a more formal sign marked fromagerie.  The narrow, unpaved road only allows one car access in either direction at a time.   It is lined by blossoming almond trees and an expanse of vibrant green fields conjuring images of Ireland.  As I neared the farm the land became wooded and rocky, typical terrain for goats.  With my windows open I drove along to the music of bells and bleating.  I smelled the animals before I saw them;  a parade of goats leaving the barn and running towards the fields.  I pulled in front of the small shop and was greeted by a barking dog, definitely a farm dog with his matted and muddy white hair.  Could this be how people perceive my children I wondered, after they’ve spent the day roaming the winery, climbing tree and having mud pie battles as they did last Sunday?  The bark was for show apparently, as the friendly dog trotted up to the car, tail wagging as I opened the door.  He was rewarded with a scratch behind the ears.             

There were probably 20 different kinds of goat’s cheese on display in the boutique.  Everything from fresh creamy goat’s cheese, one of my favorites to spread on crunchy bread, to the aged Picodon, hard and crumbly with its green tinge and spicy bite.  There were bouchons, named after wine cork for their shape, fromage de chèvre à la figue, with pâte de coings (quince paste), swimming in olive oil and herbes de Provence, covered in pepper corns and wrapped in leaves.  Not to forget the Picodon’s all in varying degrees of aging.              

The vitrine of Fromage de Chevre. Picodon is the little round cheese.

 Once the cheese of peasants, Picodon has become one of the most popular goats cheeses in France and is seen on the tables of the best restaurants in Provence and surrounding regions.  The name comes from local dialect and means to pique.  Best translated, pique means spicy or having a bite.  It holds the label AOC, or Appellation d’origine contrôlée, which means that a product is protected by standards authentic to a certain region.  The AOC label is a guarantee of the product’s quality, its location, and the artisanal knowledge, usually passed down through generations of family, of the producer.  A goat’s cheese must be aged at least 14 days before it is considered a Picodon.            

As I chose my cheese, I watched the production through the small window in the rear of the store.  Two woman and a man were busy ladling liquid cheese into faisselle pots, small plastic molds with holes in the bottom where Picodon is aged.  I chose 4 cheeses;  one the oldest Picodon, for Raphael.  I’m sure it piques quite nicely.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to enjoy the spicy fromage de chèvre for a few more months.  It is unpasteurized and not permitted while pregnant.            

A selection of goat's cheese.

Recipe:  Tarte au Picodon et aux épinards        Spinach Tarte    

Either buy or make a tarte pastry.  Recipe for pastry follows:            

1/4 cup butter            

a pinch of salt            

3 soup spoons of olive oil            

3 soup spoons of water            

Mix ingredients mold into a ball.  Let sit at room temperature for two hours.  Then shape the ball into the bottom and sides of a tarte pan and pre cook for 15 minutes.            

2 and a half pounds spinach leaves            

4 young Picodons or creamy goats cheese            

3 egg yolks            

1/2 cup crème fraîche/heavy cream            

1 tsp. grated nutmeg            

pinch salt and pepper            

The day before, boil or steam the spinach leaves.  Drain and let sit overnight.  The allows for evaporation of most of the water.  Otherwise, the mixture is too liquid and the pastry doesn’t become crispy.  Spread the spinach on the bottom of the pasty.  Mix the eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl and pour over spinach.  Cut the cheese in the strips or cubes and disperse over mixture.  Cook for 20 to 30 minutes at 380°F.